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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Mondays, we bring you our revival of the 1950s radio series This I Believe. Today our essay comes from Ted Gup. He's a writer who lives in Pepper Pike, Ohio, and Bucksport, Maine, and a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University. Here is the curator of our series, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON reporting:
Some have wondered if our series is only for those with firm convictions, for people of single faith or credo. Belief, however, is not always clear-cut. There are those like Ted Gup, who are not convinced of one right way or another. They are searchers, questioners. In fact, their belief is in the search and the questions. Here is Ted Gup with his essay for This I Believe.
Professor TED GUP (Case Western Reserve University): For years, I really didn't know what I believed. I always seemed to stand in the no-man's-land between opposing arguments, yearning to be won over by one side or the other, but finding instead degrees of merit in both. I remember some 35 years ago, sitting at a table with the editor of The Washington Post and a half dozen Harvard kids. We were all finalists for a Post internship, and the editor was there to winnow our numbers down. He asked each of us what we thought about the hot issues of the day: Vietnam, Nixon, the demonstrations. The Harvard kids were dazzling. They knew exactly where they stood. Me, I just stumbled on every issue, sounding so muddled. I was sure I had forever lost my shot at The Post. Why, I wondered, could I not see as clearly as those around me?
When the lunch was over and everyone rose to leave, the editor put his hand on my arm and asked me to stay. We talked again about the war and how it was dividing the country. A month later, he wrote me a rejection letter. He said I was too young for the job. But he liked my attitude. He told me that he hunched I had a hell of a future and to keep bugging him. I did. Seven years later, he hired me.
But that first letter, now framed in my office, had already given me an invaluable license. It had let me know that it was OK to be perplexed, to be torn by issues, to look at the world and not feel inadequate because it would not sort itself out cleanly. In the company of the confidant, I had always envied their certainty. I imagined myself like some tiny sailboat, aimlessly tacking in whatever wind prevailed at the moment, but in time, I came to accept, even embrace, what I called my confusion and to recognize it as a friend and ally; no apologies needed. I preferred to listen rather than to speak; to inquire, not crusade. As a noncombatant, I was welcomed at the tables of even bitterly divided foes. I came to recognize that I had my own compass and my own convictions. And if at times they took me in circles, at least they expanded outward. I had no wish for converts. Where would I lead them?
An editor and mentor at The Post once told me I was wobbly. I asked, `Who else was in that category?' and drew comfort from its quirky ranks. They were good people, all, open-minded, inquisitive and, yes, confused. We shared a common creed. Our articles of faith all ended with a question mark. I wouldn't want a whole newsroom, hospital, platoon or, God forbid, a nation of us, but in periods of crisis, when passions are high and certainty runs rabid, it's good to have a few of us on hand. In such times, I believe it falls to us wobblys to try and hold the shrinking common ground.
ALLISON: Ted Gup with his essay for This I Believe. If you are interested in summarizing your own beliefs for our series, please visit our Web site for information about submitting your writing. That's npr.org. You can also read and listen to all the essays at the site. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
MONTAGNE: Next Monday on "All Things Considered," an essay from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.